Zion to Arches: Part 6

Zion to Arches Hike Report

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(previous: The Upper Paria ⟺ next: The Kaiparowits Plateau)

Yellow Rock to Wahweap Hoodoos

May 4, 2018
Day 17 (continued)

By early morning on day 17 I was nearing the “the Box” of the Paria River. My next destination was Yellow Rock, but instead of taking the traditional route (down the river a bit more and then up Cottonwood Wash to the official trail-head), I wanted to try a different route. The new-to-me route began via an old cattle route that climbed a well-defined ramp north of the river.  It was a fairly quick climb providing a good view back over the river and the narrowest part of the canyon:

looking back over “The Box” of the Paria River

The route meandered a bit as it made its way toward the high spot on the ridge. While hiking this stretch a helicopter flew over several times. It was flying fairly low and seemed to be looking for something as opposed to being on a scenic flight. I was curious what was going on, but would never find out.

Near the top of the ridge the route faded some. I recalled reading the old cattle route headed more northwest toward higher ground, but I wanted to go east down into a gulch where there was more interesting slickrock to be found. Looking down the gulch I could see the formation known as “Carrot Top” in the distance.  I headed that way, losing much of the elevation that I’d just gained.

Down out the bottom of the gulch I found myself at an intersection of canyons. Supposedly another (rougher) route comes up here from the Paria. It looked pretty brushy to me. As I attempted to continue toward Carrot Top, I quickly realized the route was more difficult than I’d hoped. The slickrock climbing back out of the gulch was much steeper than anticipated. I scouted for an alternate route, but didn’t spend too long as I realized it would be easier to re-trace my steps back up and take a more round-about approach. So that’s what I did — problem solved.

Once I got up on the patch of slickrock headed toward Carrot Top I was pleased to find some pools of water.  I took a short break to filter some of it and have a snack. Afterwards I decided to skip Carrot Top and just angle north toward Yellow Rock.  From the nearby rise I could see Yellow Rock in the distance and the cool route ahead which I dubbed the “Valley of Color”.  Not sure which I like to make my own names for everything — but I do! 🙂

looking ahead to the “Valley of Color” and Yellow Rock on the horizon

The walk through the area was quite nice. The fact that the area is just that and NOT super-amazing is probably why it’s not well known. The area in no way rivals Coyote Buttes or White Pocket, but it seemed that every few hundred feet three was something pretty cool to look at.  I don’t expect many people to take this route, but it would be my choice for connecting the Paria to Yellow Rock.  It’s more work — bet definitely more scenic than the route down Cottonwood Wash.

As I approached the norther end of the “Valley of Color” the canyon constricted a bit. There was a nice sandstone ramp though that led me up to high ground. The final bit was sand sand and then turning around I got a good look at the gulch that I’d just hiked up:

Turning to the north it was just a matter of a short distance dodging some spruce trees and then I could see how close to Yellow Rock I was:

I made quick work down the sandy terrain and to the base of the formation where I was somewhat surprised to see a really big pool of water.  I was also surprised to hear bees buzzing about — though try as I might I couldn’t tell WHERE they were. Then… it dawned on me, the sound wasn’t bees… it was a DRONE! Sure enough, I was finally able to locate it flying high above. At that time I saw two people in the distance and figured they must have been the ones flying it. The drone soon left not to return and then shortly after I meet the two people I’d seen. They were a middle-aged couple from Germany and they asked me “Were you flying a drone?!” Turns out we both assumed it must have been the other party! We soon saw two other people on TOP of Yellow Rock, so we guessed it must have been them — but maybe not.

Note: flying a drone while at Yellow Rock is against Wilderness regulations, though… technically the airspace is permitted if the drone is operated from outside the wilderness area — ie down by the road. Drone photography is awesome, but I really don’t like the sound of bees!

The couple headed south toward Carrot Top after we chatted a bit about my route. Then I walked up to the mid-point of Yellow Rock checking it out and taking pictures/video. This southern side of Yellow Rock really is the best with all the colorful stripes of sandstone. So… so if you ever visit make sure to continue past the northern side.

Back down at the bottom I walked the eastern edge where I saw more and more pools of water in the various gulches running down to the east. I’d followed one these gulches up in the past, but this time I was headed farther north and to the official route to the trailhead.

I was taking my time meandering and taking more photos when the German couple returned. They said they evidently took a bad route and found it too difficult to continue toward Carrot Top, so instead they just headed back to enjoy more time in this area. We hiked together for a ways, but then I said my goodbyes as I headed toward the exit route.

The route to the trail-head heads east and then quickly descends the slopes toward Cottonwood Wash. At the top it’s a great view of the Cockscomb formation and the valley.

Once down I buzzed past a few parked cars at the trail-head and then continued on the dirt road to the junction of the Brigham Plains jeep road which abruptly climbs up the opposite side of the valley. I’d gone this way several times, but I never get tired of the view.

The “Cockscomb” via Brigham Plains Road

Once atop the big climb I had a great view of the plains themselves and the new area I was headed into. I could clearly see Coyote Canyon in the distance.

looking east across Brigham Plains toward Coyote Canyon

I soon left the road behind and dropped down into a system of washes that I knew would lead into Coyote Canyon. My plan was to head south of routes I’d taken in past to explore the lower reaches of this canyon which I knew little about. On a TOPO map it looked like there could be some drops ahead so I was a tad nervous as I made my way down the rocky wash.

Sooner than anticipated I came to a big dryfall with a drop of 25′ feet or so.

Upper Coyote Canyon

The nearby rock walls were all near-vertical, but it was a “chunky” formation so I was optimistic that I could find a way down somewhere nearby. I wasn’t THAT optimistic that there wouldn’t be another, possibly bigger drop ahead though.

I followed the rim to the south to no avail. Out on a point I saw no way down anywhere nearby. But, across the canyon I noticed a weakness that looked like it would work. So, once again I retraced my steps back to the initial dryfall and then explored around the northern rim of the canyon. When I got to the location I’d spotted — sure enough it was not that difficult to climb down.

Immediately below this spot was another dryfall with an approx. 10′ drop — however it had a fairly easy/obvious bypass. Looking back up at that drop and the initial way down from the rim behind.

minor obstacles in upper Coyote Creek Canyon

Headed down canyon I continued to be anxious about what might find ahead. Luckily it was fairly quick walking as the canyon got more and more narrow. I was approaching a junction which I had a bad feeling about when it was starting to get dark, but… I was relieved to find no obstacle at the junction and instead a slightly-more-open canyon. There was a nice sandy bench at that spot do I decided to make camp for the night.

Day 18

Woke up in the morning and kept going down the canyon that I knew very little about. It kept getting more and more open and I could tell there would be no more trouble. Soon I was at the junction with the main fork of Coyote Canyon. At this point the canyon seemed REALLY wide open. I headed south.

Coyote Canyon

My next point of interest would be Coyote Spring. I was really hoping it would be a good one as the wash was completely dry and I’d wanted to fill up on water.  I was getting fairly close to the spot marked on the map and there was no sign of any ground moisture. But then… there it was. There was definitely water, but it didn’t look very appealing as it was just a small pool which had been traipsed in by cows.

Coyote Spring — yuck!

I decided to not even bother as I still had some water and hoped that maybe it would be better farther down. I was nervous when the wash quickly dried up again within about 100 yards, but after another few bends down the wash a small trickle started to form. Then there was an overhanging alcove with a few drips from the walls and several pools below. Cows still frequented this spot, but it was possible to find some protected water so I filled up.

better water south of the official spring

Once loaded back up with water I continued down the canyon. Glad I filled up where I did as the water quickly dried up again. I soon passed several rancher waterworks, but they were all dry as well. No more water, but I did run into a bunch of cows. I tried my best to not to drive them down the canyon, but it was hard to not do so.

By early afternoon I’d left the wash and was on a dirt road running along the bank. This soon led to a junction where I turned east onto another dirt road. This was the old route that some used to get to the Wahweap Hoodoos, but it’s now closed to all but “administrative” vehicles.  It was a desolate road to walk with no escape from the sun so I’m glad it wasn’t hotter.

I was walking this road for hours. The only escape from the sun was an occasional juniper or a strange “pipe tower” that I found at a dry waterworks site. Along the way I was surprised to see a lone pronghorn. It darted away before I could get a photo, but it was cool to see. It was the first time I’d ever seen one while hiking.

As I neared Wahweap Wash I noticed the “Black Castle” formation in the distance to the north (see galley). I’d read about this formation and wanted to get a closer look, but I was pretty drained  by this point and was just anxious to get to the hoodoos and (hopefully) more water in the wash.

Once down into the wash I hung near the cliffs on the west side. I immediately noticed the white cliffs and “wrinkly” hills which typify the geology of the hoodoo area. Another bend or two and I was in the heart of the hoodoos. Yes — they were as amazing as I’d imagined. Though it’s possible to get to this spot as a day hike from the south — I’d never done it.

Wahweap Hoodoos

The sun was already fading though as many of the hoodoos were already in the shade. I only took took a few photos before I found a place nearby to camp so that I could return for good photos in the morning.

After setting up camp I went to check for water in the wash. To my pleasure I saw (as expected) a flowing Wahweap Creek. It was milk-chocolate brown.

muddy Wahweap Creek

The opaque flow didn’t bother me too much. I knew that I could let it settle for a few hours, and then run it through the filter and it would be all good (and it was!) I even took the opportunity to get in the water and relax a bit which felt good on the feet!

Back at camp I celebrated Cinco de Mayo with some freeze-dried cheese enchiladas! It was great — but not quite like my local favorite back in LA!

Day 19

Got up and explored the hoodoos. Early morning was a bit cloudy, but soon the sun came out. The hoodoos are amazing. There are two main coves in the area and each has some really incredible  formations. My words are likely to fail, so here are some some pics (and many more in the gallery!)

After a little more than an hour of exploring the two main coves of hoodoos, I packed up my gear and headed south. I was fortunate to have the entire place to myself the entire time I was there. As I walked down the wash (and toward the day-hike TH) I finally ran into some other people — a group of four from France. They were surprised to see me, but excited to hear that they’d be all alone once they got to the hoodoos. Though… I soon learned that their solitude wouldn’t last too long as I passed another group about 15 minutes later! And… then another.  Yep, I was definitely pretty lucky! 🙂

South of the main coves of hoodoos there are a few other minor sets of hoodoos on the same side of the river. These don’t get as much attention, but they are still pretty impressive. The farther north of these includes one I dubbed “The Tower” (a fairly unoriginal name and one I think has already been used for the big one in the main group.) But, the one here is by far the tallest of all the hoodoos towering probably 50′ high. I wish I had a person in this pic for scale:

the “Tower” south of the main coves

South of here is another wall of hoodoos. I didn’t stop to investigate, but did snap a photo. Upon later inspection I could see maybe a half dozen hoodoos that look interesting — including possibly the skinniest of the bunch. The whole area definitely deserves a bit more time.  From that point on it was a pretty dull couple of miles walking down the wash.

I actually went a bit out of my way to go to the official trail-head to see if there were any amenities there — there were none. However, I met a nice couple getting ready to set out on their day-hike. They offered me some treats and even volunteered to take the trash I’d accumulated since Bryce. Good people!

After that I set off in the opposite direction and away from Wahweap Wash. But… that’ll have to wait until the next section: Part 7: The Kaiparowits Plateau!

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  1. Frederick Sramek

    Hi “Jammer!” Thank you for sharing these Trip Reports! Due to Covid, I can’t safely visit the Utah canyon country, but I can vicariously visit through these reports. I visited Yellow Rock in 2017. The colors in the sandstone remind me a lot of the colors in “Rainbow Ridge” (the area north of St. George you visited a few years ago).

    • Thanks! I agree — very similar in color/texture. When I originally published that post many people guessed that the area had to be near Yellow Rock.